Cognitive Neuroscience of Aging: Linking Cognitive and Cerebral Aging

By Roberto Cabeza; Lars Nyberg et al. | Go to book overview

5
BOLD Functional MRI
and Cognitive Aging

Adam H. Gazzaley

Mark D’Esposito

The emergence of functional neuroimaging technology such as positron emission tomography (PET) and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and its associated analytical methods has ushered in a new stage in the study of cognitive aging, allowing a unique appreciation of the complexity of this evolving process (Cabeza, 2002; Gazzaley & D’Esposito, 2003; Grady, 2000; Reuter-Lorenz, 2002). These new techniques have complemented the traditional method for exploring the neural basis of age-associated cognitive deficits, which involves the behavioral testing of older patients with neuropsychological tasks to tap specific cortical functions. Conclusions regarding the link between a particular neuropsychological test and its neural substrate rely on data derived from the performance of patients with defined structural lesions, such as those secondary to stroke or trauma (Stuss et al., 1996). This approach has been largely responsible for the development of the frontal hypothesis of cognitive aging, in which cognitive deficits in older adults are often comparable, although usually milder, than the impairments documented in patients with frontal lobe damage (Moscovitch & Winocur, 1995).

Using the “lesion” method to generate hypotheses about the neural mechanisms underlying cognitive aging raises several important issues. For example, is the neural mechanism underlying the proposed frontal lobe dysfunction in normal aging comparable to the mechanism that leads to frontal lobe dysfunction after damage to this area from a stroke (Greenwood, 2000)? Clearly, significant differences likely exist in the mechanism, extent of dysfunction, and time course of neural changes that occur during the normal aging process compared to those that occur during pathological processes such as stroke, trauma, or neurodegenerative disease. In stroke, the onset of frontal lobe damage is acute, and neuronal death occurs; patients are typically tested behaviorally within a few months and rarely more than a year or two

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